Nice Girls With Guns

Kingwood High friends say the girls were "Sweet." Adults say "Well-Mannered." Cops say "armed robbers."

After the initial shock of the girls' arrests, lots of people, including a school district official and the editor of the Kingwood Observer, called the crime spree "an anomaly." It is possible that they're right, that the glare of publicity Kingwood suffers when one of their good kids goes bad is unfair in light of how many stay good. "Kingwood is -- I hesitate to use the word 'perfect,' " says Cynthia Calvert, managing editor of the Observer, who is herself a Kingwood High parent. "But it really is a place where moms and dads and their kids go out on the soccer field on Saturdays. There has not been a homicide since I have been here. Not one. We really don't have a crime problem."

To say that four girls with nice clothes and guns are an anomaly is to suggest that they invented crime in a vacuum. It is to suggest that what they did, however outlandish and foolhardy, has no connection to the big picture in Kingwood. But in fact, these girls came from crime, the juvenile version of white-collar crime -- a teenage wasteland of hard drugs and beer and virginities lost on a combination thereof, born of boredom and populated by buzz-cut boys with the hard faces of college-town club bouncers, and September girls for whom December is already making its bid.

Krystal Maddox's father told People magazine she was just "a normal 16-year-old."
Krystal Maddox's father told People magazine she was just "a normal 16-year-old."
Michelle Morneau (pictured in mug shot and yearbook) now attends Kingwood College.
Michelle Morneau (pictured in mug shot and yearbook) now attends Kingwood College.

Kingwood High is a place so white, the brunettes look slightly out of place. It is the type of place where if you make the first cut for the softball team, the coach might give you a locker and instructions to change who your friends are and how you dress before the second cut. When people began to refer to the Fillies, the drill team, as the Whore Corps, members had to sign a code of conduct agreeing, among other things, that they would not kiss their boyfriends in the halls. At football games, the Kingwood Mustangs dash out of a giant inflated football helmet, and the Fillies sit in neat rows on the bleachers and cross their legs on cue, and territorial hoofprints mark the cheerleaders' skirts over the left buttock, and the parents wear polo shirts that say, "Varsity Dad" or "Kingwood Fillies," and one gets the sense that it is all as much a matter of status as spirit.

Katie, Lisa, Michelle and Krystal may not have been the kind of stunning beauties that met with instant popularity, like Lisa's exotic Barbie of a younger sister, Jessica. But except for Krystal, the girls were "very Abercrombie & Fitch," says a classmate. Parents who knew them use words such as "ladylike" and "well-mannered." Kids who knew them say they were "really sweet," "so sweet" or "very sweet," even though no one could tell the kinds of stories about them that one might tell at a wake or a wedding.

"None of them stood out," Kingwood graduate Cary Dukes says of the four girls. "None of them were outgoing to the point where everyone knew who they were. They weren't anything special."

Of the four, Michelle Morneau maintained the lowest profile. In May she graduated from Kingwood High, where she had been capable of going an entire semester without saying a word in class. Yet people who saw her at parties say she was a trash-mouthed girl who didn't necessarily care about preserving a good reputation when it came to boys. Morneau's parents, an Exxon lawyer and a special-ed teacher, got divorced two years ago, and Michelle lives with her mom. Her dad, who also lives in Kingwood with his new wife, got the condo in Hawaii.

According to W.C. Pudifin, an undercover investigator who was brought in by Detective Stephens, Morneau never wielded a gun. During the robberies, she stayed in the car. She was the first of the girls to get bailed out of jail (Katie and Lisa are still in custody), and she and her ankle bracelet now attend Kingwood College, where friends have been known to joke with her about her newfound celebrity.

The least wealthy of the four was Katie Dunn, who lived with her mom and older brother in an apartment across the street from Kingwood High. Her mom is a nurse. Her brother, the man of the house since their dad stayed in Iowa after the divorce, tried to be a father to Katie, or at least look after her at parties. At Kingwood High, extracurriculars can cost as much as tuition at a public college, but Katie's mom scraped together the more than $1,200 it took for her daughter to be a Filly.

It was Katie's distinctively raspy voice that a Kingwood High assistant principal identified on the convenience store surveillance tape. She is boisterous, loud, rough around the edges. At school, where she would have been a senior this year if she weren't in jail, she knew exactly which teachers' and administrators' favor to curry in order to skip class with impunity. A lot of schoolmates found her off-putting, particularly her habit of "hanging on" guys, but to her closest pals she was an attentive friend, the type who would make a big deal out of someone's birthday or microwave a pizza for her friends after school. One friend says his mom saw the preternaturally upbeat Katie as marriage material. She never talked about not having as much money as other girls. When her boyfriend broke up with her this summer, she shrugged it off. Nothing seemed to get her down.

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